Louis Francis Salzman, (1878-1971)

Louis Francis Sazman

Louis Francis Salzman was a signatory to the circular initiating the Society’s formation, was elected to the Council in 1901 and remained a member until his death, giving 45 years’ service as Literary Director and editing 11 other volumes.

The following entry from the Dictionary of National Biography is reprinted with acknowledgement:

Salzman [formerly Salzmann], Louis Francis (1878–1971), antiquary and historian, was born on 26 March 1878 at Brighton, Sussex, the younger son of Frederick William Salzmann, a physician, and his wife, Clara Sinnock. He was educated at Haileybury School and Pembroke College, Cambridge, where he read, though ingloriously, the natural sciences tripos. Having inherited a small private income while still young, he lived for a while in Hailsham, Sussex, and there exchanged medicine for history, publishing The History of the Parish of Hailsham in 1901, the first of some twenty books that he wrote or edited.

Through indifferent health Salzman escaped military service in the First World War and instead taught at St George’s School, Harpenden, Hertfordshire. In 1918 he moved to Cambridge and coached and supervised history students. In 1904 he had married Maud Elizabeth, daughter of George Monro Russell, then vicar of Upper Dicker, Sussex; they had three sons, the youngest of whom died in 1943, and two daughters. The marriage was dissolved in 1934 and Salzman thereupon left Cambridge for London.

When Salzman’s literary career began, English economic history was still comparatively unexplored. Some of Salzman’s earliest essays were in that field, for he contributed the articles on all the Sussex industries then identified to the second of the volumes devoted to Sussex (1907) in the Victoria History of the Counties of England, which had been founded at the turn of the century and itself pioneered economic history. Those articles were complemented by English Industries in the Middle Ages (1913), and English Trade in the Middle Ages (1931), learned textbooks which were indispensable to students at a time when little of the kind was readily available. The first had originally excluded building but the enlarged edition of 1923 supplied the lack. That in turn was replaced in 1952 by Building in England Down to 1540 (2nd edn, 1967), which deals with the early organization of the trade, technique, and materials, and prints many documents, notably contracts. This was Salzman’s permanent contribution to scholarship. An outcome was the Vernacular Architecture Group, of which Salzman was a founder and whose meetings he still attended in his eighties.

The Victoria History of the Counties of England, after wartime discontinuance and painful resuscitation, was eventually acquired by William Page, its editor, who in 1932 presented it, though unendowed, to the University of London. The university entrusted it to its Institute of Historical Research. In 1934 Page died and Salzman became editor. The moment was inauspicious, for the History was doubtfully popular and the university had little money for its support. Nevertheless, Salzman resumed the Oxfordshire and Warwickshire series and started Cambridgeshire, without halting Sussex. Before retiring in 1949 he had brought out fifteen volumes; for eleven of them he was the sole editor. Some of the general chapters that he commissioned were attractively original but the volumes of parish histories continued the Page convention. Given contemporary calamities, that conservatism was prudent, for extravagant innovations could have killed the History or hampered its later evolution. As an editor Salzman justifiably condemned both verbosity and procrastination, and, if always fair, could express his displeasure forcefully.

Sussex was a leading beneficiary of Salzman’s industry. He joined the council of its archaeological society in 1903 and became president in 1954 and 1955. He edited forty-five volumes of its transactions, from 1909 to 1959, and published its history in 1946. He helped to excavate Pevensey Castle and Alfriston’s Saxon cemetery in youth, and Robertsbridge Abbey in 1935. He was a founder of the Sussex Record Society and its joint or sole literary director from 1905, himself preparing for it ten texts. For these and other services to learning he was appointed CBE in 1955 and made an honorary DLitt of the University of Sussex in 1965.

Salzman’s knowledge of antiquities was deep, versatile, and generously shared. He had widely explored the public records, as his book called Medieval Byways (1913) and two others descriptive of English social life (medieval and Tudor, both 1926) reveal. He also wrote biographies of Henry II (1917) and, less successfully, Edward I (1968). His prose was clear and easy and he seldom altered his first drafts. He thought out many of his serious works on long walks. Latterly his personality seemed somewhat forbidding and he could be devastatingly outspoken, but there was a far lighter touch: he wrote plays and verses for children and he commemorated in verse occurrences in the Institute of Historical Research. He was sparely built and to the last retained his abundant locks and eyebrows. From about 1938 he lived at Lewes, Sussex, and died there on 4 April 1971.

Reference: https://doi.org/10.1093/ref:odnb/31652